Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More About Bob and Other Stories of Omniscience

I think we have a fight on our hands.

And, for the record? I can’t BELIEVE it’s about point of view.

I agree with Bob that most of us learn that the omniscient point of view is meant to be a "God's eye" view. I think, however, the mistake is thinking one is actually meant to take on the part of God (or the Goddess), if you will, and not have any opinion about what's being portrayed in the story you are telling. The omniscient narrator is a narrator and a participant in the story, just as a limited third-person narrator would be. This is not just my opinion.

This definition comes from NYU’s class on English reading & writing. Citation:

Omniscient Point of View:

"The story is told by the author, using the third person, and his knowledge and prerogatives are unlimited. He can interpret the behavior of his characters; he can comment, if he wishes, on the significance of the story he is telling.

It offers a constant danger that the author may come between the reader and the story, or that the continual shifting of viewpoint from character to character may cause a breakdown in coherence or unity. Used skillfully, it enables the author to achieve simultaneous breadth and depth. Unskillfully used, it can destroy the illusion of reality, which the story attempts to create."

The implication here is very obviously that there is a narrator, a commentator—with a personality (likely the author's)—who is telling the story in omniscient point of view. In fact, as said above, the biggest danger is that the story will suffer from "his" intrusion -- that the narrator will be too present.

Again, I will agree that the solution to this is not to pepper one's prose with "I supposed" or "I consider" or other wishy-washy language. It is imperative that the narrative voice make some kind of stand, posit some kind of opinion. That is what narrative voice does. It should, in point of fact, be the expression of the character's opinions, their feeling, and their general take on the scene or whatever.


Zoe said...

So with omniscient POV, the author is making a separate narrator character to tell the story, and with limited POV one of the existing characters is telling the story, but either way there's an actual character telling the story (as opposed to a neutral voice)... makes sense. It's also the thing that's always bugged me when I would read older books that used omniscient POV - I would be engrossed in the story, and all of a sudden the narrator would be talking to me! Quit talking to me! I would think. I'm not part of the story! And you're supposed to be a pure channel for the story! You're not supposed to have enough self to talk to me!

I much prefer limited POV anyway - both to read, and to write. I like feeling like I'm deep inside a character's head. I like being able to see how the main character sees the world.

zaparozh said...

Oh, definitely a fight, hon. ;-) Because, as you very well know, I DON'T GIVE A FLYING FUCK what some particular authority says about what POV is or isn't.

Right now, in fact, I'm preparing an article taking Strunk & White to task for a couple particular points. The issue, of course, isn't that they aren't a great resource--I assign the text for good reason, because I almost always completely agree with them.


They, despite their reputation, aren't Gods. No authority is. Plato was a great thinker. So was Einstein. So was (insert your choice here). That still doesn't mean infallible, still doesn't mean, on occasion, they had their heads so far up their asses as to be in violation of sodomy laws in 28 states.

Which brings me back to the complaint with simply quoting NYU in particular. Fiction, I'll argue to my death, is equally about expression and ideas. (In fact, this might argue that if sci-fi is REALLY "the literature of ideas," this splits an existing split--and we might approximate that the idea should be 75% of the story--and the expression only 25%. A ball that's getting dropped with increasing frequency, as I see it.)

That is, as my masters thesis at Hamline was an argument for, issues of philosophy--both within and ABOUT the text--can't be ignored. There is, however, a trend toward just that. An increasing insularity among various literati, be they academic, popular, or anywhere in-between.

Throw that out, however, and you still haven't addressed my initial critique--and neither has NYU's silly little screed. *WHO* is omniscient.

A simple "person" narrator? Third person is not by it's inherent nature omniscent. I don't have privileged information to your thoughts. You don't to mine.

To take on an omniscent POV is, by its very implication, to take some type of God's-eye perspective--and all the rationalization by all the world's fiction writers cannot change that.

(I can buy limited omniscent--that is, keeping to one character's POV at a time--in light of a concession to the reader in this case. Just like the old Hebrew conception of the Angelic! ;-) That is, "you can't handle all that I can throw at you, so I'll give you an aspect at a time." This still doesn't change the fact of an IMPLIED God's-eye view, though.)

Oddly enough, there are parallels to that classic "first" science fiction novel, Frankenstein. You know from our many conversations that, as much as I love the Whale films, they don't hold a candle in min mind to the original story, in no small part because of the differences in underlying theme. The film is a bald and direct pop-sentiment of "scientists shouldn't play God." The novel, however, is far more subtle, and can be said to argue that we all play God--every parent who has a child no less than any scientist making life in a test tube. (The monster's main complain is *abandonment* by his Creator.) The issue is, that, if one is to take on the actions of a God, then one should take on Godlike responsibility.

Plenty of writers like to use "voice" to pretend just such cheekiness.

The question is, what lies underneath? Is it all persistent-adolescent bluster?